Q: Last week, my 2-year-old daughter watched the Disney movie The Jungle Book. She hasn’t stopped talking about how scary the characters were and how she’s having bad dreams about them, but she keeps asking the watch the movie. We decided to put the movie away until she’s a little older. Did we make the right decision? How can we address this subject with her as we move forward?
Frightened Family in Phoenix, AZ
A: Dear Frightened Family,
You did something that is a hallmark of media-aware parenting: You watched your daughter’s response, listened to her, and responded to the situation. So, yes, putting away the movie until she’s a bit older was the right decision based on how she was reacting to it. You also learned something about what sorts of things upset or scare her, which is great information to have for future media experiences.
You are probably most curious about why she would keep asking to watch the movie if it scared her so much. The reason is that when young children see something that makes them feel insecure, they will try to master their fear by watching it again and again. We adults often experience this quest for mastery, too, such as when we seek out the thrill of horror movies.
Keep tabs on what scares your daughter first by paying attention to her reactions, as you did. Also know that there are certain themes—like abandonment—that are especially scary for children in her age group. In The Jungle Book and in many other Disney movies (think Finding Nemo, Bambi, and The Lion King), this theme is central. For that reason, take a close look at the storyline of any given movie—even (and maybe even especially) an animated one—before deciding whether it is appropriate for your kids. Common Sense Media is a great resource for getting information about plots and comments from other parents.
So how do you decide when your daughter is ready for The Jungle Book again? Slowly expose her to information about the kinds of things that scared her, and gauge her reaction. For example, if the animals scared her, show her photos of tigers and other jungle animals, and explain how they take care of their cubs. Once she knows more about real-life tigers, she may be ready to see The Jungle Book as a way to learn about jungle animals. That shift can make it a positive educational experience rather than a frightening one.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,